by Stephen Wexler, MD, ophthalmologist
Glaucoma is a progressive deterioration of the optic nerve associated with increased fluid pressure inside the eye. If glaucoma is left untreated, it leads to a gradual loss of vision and possibly total blindness. It can rob you of the opportunity to watch a sunset or see a loved one walk down the aisle on their wedding day. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. Yet, there is a variety of effective treatments when glaucoma is found and treated in its early stages.
Glaucoma occurs when the eye fails to properly drain fluid, which causes a build-up of pressure that can damage the optic nerve. The fluid build-up can occur from numerous sources:
an obstruction of the eye's drainage apparatus that worsens with age
the eye's drainage apparatus is malformed from birth (congenital)
certain medications can lead to blockage of the eye's drainage system
Chronic, open angle glaucoma presents no obvious symptoms until a significant loss of vision occurs. The disease can only be diagnosed professionally by a thorough eye examination. Most cases of open angle glaucoma can be treated successfully with eye drops (two to four times daily), oral medication or laser surgery.
If you have diabetes or a family history of glaucoma; or if you are over 35, nearsighted or African-American, you are at higher risk for developing glaucoma. High-risk patients should see their eye doctor annually for a thorough examination.
Another type of glaucoma is narrow angle glaucoma or acute glaucoma. This is caused by a sudden blockage of fluid flow to the optic nerve. A rapid rise of eye pressure occurs, resulting in a painful red eye and blurred vision. Immediate emergency treatment is needed to prevent permanent vision loss. Laser surgery is used to correct the fluid imbalance. This will return the pressure to normal.
As a regular part of preventive health care, be sure to see your eye doctor for regular check-ups.